The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: Action Overload for TNT by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday June 23, 2009

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Talking NASCAR TV: Action Overload for TNT

Phil Allaway · Tuesday June 23, 2009

 

Greetings, race fans. This past weekend brought two fairly interesting races at the Milwaukee Mile, and one very racy 350 kilometer event at Infineon Raceway. I, for one, thought that the double-file restarts were going to create chaos on Sunday since this was completely uncharted territory for restarts on road courses. However, this actually was somewhat sane. There were no pile ups at the uphill Turn 2 like everyone predicted that there would be.

Now, obviously, you’re not necessarily reading this to get my views on the races. You’re reading this because you watched the races and want to know my thoughts on the broadcasts. Well, that’s what I’m going to do. Sticking with the normal routine, I’ll go in chronological order and start with the Truck Series’ race, the Copart 200 at the Milwaukee Mile.

The Copart 200 was originally scheduled to go off around 9:10 p.m. on Friday night. However, weather intervened. First, an absolute deluge descended onto the Milwaukee metro area Thursday night, which flooded parts of the infield, and the tunnel used to get into the infield. A couple of hours of pumping later, the tunnels were again accessible. Practice went on basically as scheduled, but qualifying was washed out (again). Then, 25 minutes before the pre-race show was scheduled to start, the rains came with authority. By the time NCWTS Setup began, it was absolutely pouring, with high winds to boot. Luckily, NASCAR called the race fairly quick. For those of you noting that the track had lights (temporary, of course) therefore NASCAR should have waited longer, that is true, but it rained for quite a while Friday night (until something like 11 p.m. CDT, I think). Milwaukee takes a long time to dry because it’s so flat. Apparently, three and a half inches fell at the track. Absolutely brutal. In the roughly one half hour that SPEED was on the air Friday night, they reviewed the Michigan 200 and interviewed six drivers. It took a couple of tries to interview Matt Crafton in the media center due to technical issues, though. You could see Adam Alexander talking to Crafton, without sound, and then you basically see Alexander say something along the lines of “What the Deuce? Where’s the sound?” It looked a little funny, but you could sense the frustration there. In fact, technical issues were common at the Milwaukee Mile this past weekend on both SPEED and ESPN2. I’m unclear as to why this was the case, but it simply was.

On Saturday, the race went off as scheduled. However, the issues continued. For one, SPEED outright missed a spinout by Chad McCumbee, which cost him two laps. No replays, no nothing. Waltrip mentioned the spinout, but I never saw it. The only example that came to mind here was a spinout by Dave Marcis in the 1991 Daytona 500 on an early restart. The only mention of that harmless spin was a quick “by the way” reference to the spin by Ken Squier. Here, that spin cost a driver just outside of the top 10 in points a couple laps, regardless of the fact that it didn’t hurt his truck. This spin wasn’t even shown in the race recap highlight packages later on. I guess SPEED outright missed it. That is really surprising, to be honest.

There were a couple of other things that I didn’t like in the broadcast. One of those was that SPEED missed the restart after the first caution of the day. Not a fan of that. There were also a couple more technical glitches (Ex: Two replays on top of each other).

The post-race coverage was also deficient. SPEED interviewed winner Ron Hornaday and his crew chief Rick Ren, along with second place finisher Dennis Setzer. That’s it. Besides those three interviews, SPEED’s post-race coverage only consisted of a check of the unofficial results and the point standings. I’m guessing that SPEED gave this race a fluid time slot, because they did not give an official start time for tape delayed coverage of Happy Hour from Sonoma. They just said that it would start around 4 p.m. EDT. As a result of the ultra-short post race, the final practice session from Infineon started about 10 minutes before that. I would have liked more post race coverage.

If I were to give a grade for this race coverage, I think I was give it a C. There was quite a bit of coverage of side-by-side racing, but the aforementioned issues dragged down the overall grade significantly.

Later on Saturday night, ESPN2 provided live coverage of the Nationwide Series’ NorthernTool.com 250. However, the technical issues that plagued SPEED’s coverage continued on ESPN2. Makes me think that something is up with some of the infrastructure at the Milwaukee Mile. Here, the PA system malfunctioned during the Command to start engines, creating confusion all around. In addition, the commentators were unable to talk to their “In-Race Reporter” (Scott Wimmer) during the pace laps because they could not establish a connection. To his credit, Dr. Punch apologized for these issues. Towards the end of the race, the picture started “jerking around” for some reason. No clue as to why this happened, or if it was something that everyone watching the race experienced.

Due to the fact that the race ran really quick (for a Milwaukee event), the race ended with approximately 45 minutes left in their timeslot, a near unheard of circumstance (According to my on-screen guide, the race had a timeslot on ESPN2 until Midnight). In that time, ESPN provided interviews with race winner Carl Edwards and his crew chief Dan Skillman, Steve Wallace, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch. As for Busch’s interview, required since he finished second, it was very evident that he wanted absolutely nothing to do with it. Shannon Spake asked Kyle the usual questions that a reporter would ask a second place finisher. Based on what he said, it could be assumed that he completed ignored everything Shannon asked him, and simply responded with short responses. I wish Shannon would have tried to get more of a response out of Kyle, but apparently, that just wasn’t in the cards. He just wasn’t having it. The infamous petulance reared its ugly head again. I wonder what his fellow drivers think of that behavior.

After the typical interviews that mark a typical ESPN post-race show, ESPN started using material that would normally appear in pre-race shows in order to fill time. Definitely a sign that they didn’t expect that the race would end by 11:15 p.m. EDT. A big-time lack of confidence on ESPN’s part in the abilities of the Nationwide Series drivers right there.

For this race, Ray Evernham joined Dr. Jerry Punch and Rusty Wallace in the booth, replacing the vacationing Andy Petree (this was not really mentioned on air, but it is well known that ESPN gives their booth commentators a couple of weekends off during the Nationwide-only portion of the NASCAR on ESPN schedule). Evernham was fairly solid in the booth, despite an overall limited amount of commentating experience. The earliest booth experience for Evernham that I can remember was when he was included in the booth for ABC’s four Cup races in 2000 in place of Ned Jarrett. My best guess as to why he was there was that Ned wanted to retire from the booth after 1999 (ESPN talked him into staying through 2000), and ABC let him leave so that they could attract a younger audience to their broadcasts. I thought his booth performance back then was not the best.

For Saturday night’s coverage, I think that I would give ESPN’s coverage a B- or C+. They were fairly good with showing the appropriate action out on the track, but the technical issues (some of which were completely out of their control) did hurt things. The “Up to Speed” bits done during the race could use some improvement, though. ESPN never covers all that many teams with the Up to Speed feature and Saturday night was no different. No one further back than 10th was profiled at all, and the second one was cut off after Jason Leffler had contact with the No. 70 of Shelby Howard. This contact peeled back some of the right rear fender on Leffler’s car. The replay was well-placed there. However, ESPN should have continued the Up to Speed after showing that replay.

Sunday brought TNT’s coverage of the Toyota Save Mart 350k. Most of the posters on our Live Blog on Sunday were generally satisfied with the race, giving it an A, A-, or B+ for an overall score. But, does the telecast live up to that grade?

Looking at the broadcast on Sunday, I saw a lot of the same things that hurt TNT’s broadcast from Michigan. Cautions that changed the complexion of the race fell during commercial breaks and TNT never returned from them to tell the audience what was going on. I know that this doesn’t sound like a big thing, but TNT has prided themselves on doing this in the past, so I believe that it’s fair to call them out on it. Unlike Michigan, however, this occurred three times on Sunday.

In addition, some commenter’s on last week’s critique said that some of the commercial breaks contain local ads as required in the TV deal. TNT cannot break away from those local ads for any reason. The caution for David Stremme’s crash occurred during one of these breaks. In fact, it happened while TNT was showing an ad for Fuccillo Hyundai in Niskayuna, NY. Anyone who lives in Upstate New York has probably seen one of Fuccillo’s ads and probably wants that guy to stop saying “Huge.” This takes TNT off the hook partially for that cavalcade of screw-up’s. However, that does not take TNT off the hook for missing those pit stops.
None of the three yellows that occurred during commercials on Sunday occurred during these local breaks, however.

The NASCAR on TNT Live! Show had a “Pride of NASCAR” interview with Dan Gurney, who was essentially the original Road Course Ringer. This included questions about his victory in the Cannonball in 1971 with Brock Yates. I found it interesting that he actually gave a different reason for doing the race in the interview than he did in Brock Yates’ book, Cannonball, from a couple years ago (it’s a great book, by the way. I recommend it). In the book, Gurney claimed that he initially declined because he thought his sponsors would freak out. Then, he read some piece by Ayn Rand and it gave him the idea that he should do the race as a protest against the “Nanny Culture.”

I’m still not a fan of the start of the race being around 5:20 p.m. EDT, a change that was instituted when TNT took over broadcasting the race in 2007. This is not just because it makes writing articles about this race a living nightmare for those of us on deadline (like myself on Sunday), but that it adversely affects the race for the drivers and some of the fans. At Infineon Raceway, this would adversely affect fans sitting in the Esses and Turn 7. The drivers would be driving into the sun while going up the hill. The race starts at 2:25 p.m. local time and ends after 5 p.m. The result of this is the sun playing far too much of a role during a race held on the longest day of the year.

According to NASCAR TV critic Phil Allaway, the term “Shootout-style” is overplayed.

Also, the long form name of those infamous double-file restarts is really annoying. I’m not the only person who believes this. Matt McLaughlin, in his column on Monday, mentioned this as well. Even Wally Dallenbach, Jr. and Kyle Petty are sick of the whole “Shootout-style” addendum to the end of the double-file restarts. While it is true that this style of restart has been used for years in the Budweiser Shootout (formerly Bud Shootout, and before that, the Busch Clash) at Daytona, this form of restart only gained significant momentum in NASCAR inner circles after this year’s Sprint All-Star Race, where it has also been used for years.

It’s pretty obvious by now that the “Shootout-style” thing is played out, and makes the introduction to the restarts unnecessarily long, and stilted. It’s just as annoying as the commentators coming together to say the “Mmmm…Good” slogan for Quizno’s Subs when SPEED comes back from commercial (and believe me, that is annoying and I wish that they would stop that). Just call them double-file restarts for the time being, and then just call them restarts from that point on.

To add to that, I knew that the Lucky Dog had been extended to the end of the race as a side effect (basically) of the double-file restarts being instituted, but this also sees the end of all single-file restarts in the Cup Series, even those within 20 laps of the finish. The 20 lap rule, which was just instituted earlier this season, is apparently no more after just a few weeks. This was not an issue at Pocono or Michigan because neither race had restarts in the final 20 laps, but I don’t remember this ever being made clear.

A place where TNT could have used a different view was when they showed the replay of Patrick Carpentier’s spin in Turn 11. TNT decided to show the replay from a bumper cam on the front of Clint Bowyer’s No. 33. You really couldn’t make out much from this, if anything. TNT has the same virtual software available to them that FOX has. That would have been a great time to break it out.

TNT just seemed to be slow in general on replays on Sunday. Maybe they’re still a little gun shy from their botched replay early in this race in 2007, when they accidentally aired an audible F-Bomb from Kyle Petty’s radio, I don’t know. Maybe the on track action was too fast and furious. TNT actually showed a series of replays a couple of times in order to show a couple of series of incidents. Perhaps TNT should consider using the replay split screen that SPEED has used for their Camping World Truck Series broadcasts this year.

Also, for the second time in three races, TNT failed to show a replay of a late race crash. The crash I’m referring to was a stack up coming to the white flag that involved Jeff Burton, Mark Martin and Robby Gordon. I have no clue how this happened, to be honest. All I know is that they were involved, and they all pulled away from the scene, ensuring that the race would not end under caution. The three drivers finished 34th to 36th in the final running order as a direct result of the incident. Burton’s finish caused him to drop out of the top 12 in points. It would have been nice to see a replay of this, maybe even after the checkered flag flew, but TNT was busy with other things.

This race was also the first race in TNT’s Summer Series to run longer than expected, so the length of the post-race show was explainable. The timeslot for Sunday’s race only ran to 8:30pm EDT (5:30 p.m. PDT). It took longer than that to finish the race. Knowing that, any post-race coverage that we could have gotten on TNT would essentially be gravy. We ended up getting checks on the unofficial results and points standings, which is typical. We also got interviews with the top four finishers (Kahne, Stewart, Ambrose, Johnson), and Kurt Busch, who finished 15th, but was taken out on lap 90 by Johnson. TNT also documented how Busch and Johnson worked out their issue right there on the air. Bill Weber promised additional post-race coverage on RaceBuddy after TNT left the air at approximately 8:45 to get to “The Da Vinci Code” (if you live in the Eastern U.S., like me). West Coast viewers got “The Pursuit of Happyness,” I guess. RaceBuddy’s post-race coverage included a recap of the entire race with Marc Fein and Larry McReynolds, and six more interviews (with Montoya, Allmendinger, Logano, Hamlin, Carpentier and Bowyer.

Now, what grade would I give TNT’s broadcast for this week? It was definitely not good enough for an A. I graded the race itself as a B+, just missing an A-. I’ll give the coverage a B-. I’ve already voiced some of my issues above. However, TNT did show quite a bit of racing for position and gave an impartial broadcast from Sonoma. I will admit that they failed to notice some incidents right away, like Brandon Ash’s wreck in the Esses. I think Kyle Petty did notice this crash, but the others just continued on like nothing had happened. It could be argued that this was because of the near constant action on Sunday, but that still doesn’t make excusable.

After seeing Sunday’s race, I cannot wait for Watkins Glen in August. I presently do not know whether I’ll be watching the races from there on my TV here, or if I’ll be at the track, but I’ll definitely enjoy myself either way.

That is all for this week. Next week is yet another split weekend for NASCAR’s top three series. The Truck Series races Saturday night at Memphis Motorsports Park in a standalone race, the MemphisTravel.com 200 Presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts. This race will air on Saturday at 6 p.m. on SPEED. The Nationwide and Cup Series are both racing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this weekend. The Nationwide Series’ Camping World RV Sales 200 Presented by Turtle Wax will air on ABC at 3 p.m. Saturday, while the Sprint Cup Series’ Lenox Industrial Tools 301 will air on TNT on Sunday at 2 p.m. (after the customary 90 minutes of pre-race). I will provide critiques of each of these three races in next week’s piece. In addition, if anything else piques my interest, I’ll be sure to make some reference to it here.

If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique, feel free to post in the comments below, or contact me through the email address provided on the website in my bio. And if you would like to contact TNT, ESPN, or the SPEED Channel personally with an issue regarding their TV coverage of NASCAR, please click on the following links:

Contact TNT
SPEED
ESPN

As always, if you choose to contact the networks by email, do so in a courteous manner. Network representatives are far more likely to respond to emails that ask questions in a courteous manner than emails full of rants and vitriol.

Thanks for reading, and have a great week!

Contact Phil Allaway

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don mei
06/23/2009 01:45 PM
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How about we just call them “restarts”. Those of us who follow NASCAR know about the change to double file and most people who dont usually got confused by the old single file. Ive explained NASCAR’s logic (illogic?) of wanting the lapped cars in their own line to a dozen people over the years while watching a race on tv. Never made sense to them..nor to me.

Michael
06/23/2009 02:59 PM
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TNT did have a few problems this week , and i have to think that Sundays’ reflected how much action was going on around the track at times . It was pretty wild at times , hard to cover everything as big as that place is . Still , much , much better than anything FOX ever did . By the way , notice that there is no flood of complaints every Monday about TNT like there always are about FOX ? Nascar should pay attention to that when tv contracts come up for renewal .
I got a big laugh out of the McReynolds / Hammond comments on the Saturday shows on Speed . They focused on Gordon making a practice run , and explained how he was going as hard as he could to get an idea of his fuel mileage . Gordon was promptly passed by another car and both Hammond and McReynolds immediatly began to explain that Gordon didn’t want to race the other car as it would throw off his fuel calculations . WWHHAAAT ? Fuel calculations would only be important when you’re racing as hard as you can . How on earth would you know in advance of the race how fast you would need to go ? Of course the true answer was that Gordon was simply putting in some practice laps . The Dense Duo got caught BSing ( their specialty if you pay attention to the silly things they say ) and had to back peddle hard .

Stoner
06/24/2009 06:18 AM
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ESPN was a disaster for me all weekend. Maybe it was just a problem with my satellite provider but I don’t think so. The sound mixing on the ESPN broadcasts for both the Nationwide & Indycar races was absolutely horrible. The sounds from the track (mostly engine noise) was much louder than the guys in the booth with the Nationwide being the better of the 2 races. I could at least understand what Punch, Wallace, & Evernham were saying, the Indycar race I couldn’t and had to turn the IMS radio on.

At one point I was thinking I had a problem with either my television or satellite receiver but it couldn’t be. I had no sound issues what so ever with the broadcasts of Trucks, Cup, Grand-Am, or F1.

docbob
06/26/2009 11:34 AM
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Phil,
Would like to get your thoughts sometimes on Speeds coverage of the Camping World East and West series that is on Thursday afternoons.

It is weird watching the race because of all the things we have been used to, scrolls of where people are, what lap we are on, etc, are not done at all. In fact, it seems that the commentators are watching the race on a TV screen like we are.

Any chance you will get to DVR it and give us a review.